Business Processes

This chapter looks at one way information systems can bring competitive advantage through their effect on business processes. As you read, think about the previous chapter on competitive advantage. How are the two concepts related?

What Is a Business Process?

Business Process Modeling Notation

A diagramming tool for documentation of business process is a formalized visual language that provides systems analysts with the ability to describe the business processes unambiguously, to visualize the business processes for systematic understanding, and to communicate the business process for business process management. Natural languages (e.g., English) are incapable to explain complex business processes. Diagrams have been used as tools for business process modeling in the information systems field. There have been many types of business process diagramming tools, and each of them has its own style and syntax to serve its particular purpose. The most commonly used business process diagramming tools are Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN), Data Flow Diagram (DFD), and the Unified Modeling Language (UML).

BPMN is an extension of the traditional flowchart method by adding more diagramming elements for descriptions of business process. The objective of BPMN is to support business process documentation by providing intuitive notations for business rules. The flowchart style diagrams in BPMN can provide detailed specifications business processes from start to end. However, BPMN is short of the ability of system decomposition for large information systems.

DFD has served as a foundation of many other tools of documentation of business process. The central concept of DFD is a top-down approach to understanding a system. The top-down approach is consistent with the system concept that views a system in a holistic manner and concerns an understanding of a system by examining the components and their interactions within the system. More importantly, while describing a business process by using DFD, the data stores used in the process and generated data flows in the process are also defined. We will provide an example of DFD in the Sidebar section of this chapter to illustrate the integration of data and business tasks in documenting a business process.

The Unified Modeling Language (UML) is a general-purpose modeling tool in the field of software engineering for constructing all types of computerized systems. UML includes a set of various types of diagrams with different subjects of modeling and diversified graphics styles. The diversified diagrams in UML can provide detailed specifications for software engineering in many perspectives for construction of information systems, but could be too complicated for documenting business processes from the perspective of business process management.